EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

January 13, 2014

Water customers, taxpayers on hook for $1.1M

Berberian: Costs mount up due to toxic sludge dumping fight in Andover

ANDOVER — The three-year fight between the town and a resident of Bancroft Road over the dumping of toxic sludge into wetlands on his property may be over, but it is the customers of the town’s water system - and the taxpayers - who will be footing the bill.

Between legal fees, engineering expenses and a $450,000 payout to James Berberian of 2-4 Bancroft Road, the town will have spent $1.1 million since 2011 on the case.

Town officials remain mum on the controversy, and neither Berberian nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.

The settlement, and town expenses, stem from a case that started in November 2010, when Berberian saw dark, mucky water flowing out of a drain pipe and into a wetland at the corner of his property.

He videotaped it and found that the water was coming from water department employees who were draining an underground water storage tank near the Bancroft School. The muck that ended up flowing into the wetland was from sludge that had accumulated on the bottom of the 6 million-gallon tank over the years.

Later, it was determined that the sludge contained heavy metals, including arsenic. When Berberian asked the town about the spill, it was only partially cleaned up, he said. As a result, he sued in U.S. District Court under the federal Clean Water Act to have the rest of the wetland cleaned up.

On Dec. 26, the town and Berberian signed an agreement reached after years of negotiations, depositions, executive session meetings and even a Fox-25 TV news report. The full agreement was released to The Eagle-Tribune this week.

While the agreement between Berberian and the town appears to be closed, it still needs approval from the U.S. District Court judge in the case and also needs to be approved by the EPA.

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